London 2012 Paralympics

As the London 2012 Paralympics draw to a close we can look back on a fortnight full of excitement and not a little controversy. Over 160 nations have taken part in a Games which have challenged current perceptions of what it means to be disabled. Indeed Channel 4, official broadcaster for the Games, has branded the Paralympians “Superhuman” in an advertising campaign that forces us to reassess our mindset on Paralympian sport.

The Paralympic Movement was born at Stoke Mandeville hospital where athletic events were held for British WW2 veterans following the London 1948 Olympics. Taking a look at an early news report from ITV shot at Stoke Mandeville in 1956 it is clear that it was already becoming an international event.

Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville 1956

Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville 1956: ITV News 28-07-1956









In 1984 the Games returned to Stoke Mandeville unexpectedly. The original American hosts (University of Illinois ) pulled out due to financial problems and Stoke Mandeville agreed to co-host the Games together with New York. They had only 4 months notice to organise the event.

World Wheelchair Games

Prince Charles opens the Seventh Paralympic Games held at Stoke Mandeville: ITV News 22-07-1984










Britain has produced many inspirational paralympic athletes, of whom perhaps the most famous is Baroness Grey-Thompson; better known simply as ‘ Tanni’. During her careeer she won 16 Paralympic medals for wheelchair racing events, of which 11 were gold.

Britain’s paralympian Dame Tanni Grey Thompson holds up her gold medals on the day she announces her retirement from international sport: Getty (still images) 2007











The London 2012 Paralympic Games will be making history as the second biggest multi-sport event ever held in the UK as well as being the largest and most commercially successful Paralympics held to date. Millions of spectators have enjoyed watching an event which previously received relatively little media coverage.  The Paralympics really have become ‘mainstream’ giving them the power to change social attitudes to disability, which must surely be to the benefit of us all.


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London Olympics 2012

Excitement mounts as the world awaits the opening of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London on 27 July 2012. This is the third time the Games will have taken place in London;  the first  being in 1908 when the White City Stadium was built at short notice to accommodate them.

Originally these Games were to have been held in Rome but, following the eruption of Vesuvius in 1906, funds were diverted for the rebuilding of Naples and so their location was changed to a non-volcanic London.

White City 1908 : Museum of London

White City 1908 : Exploring 20th Century London (via Culture Grid)










Forty years later the 1948 Summer Olympics were also held in London. Post-war rationing was still in force although athletes were allowed over twice the calorific intake of an adult in order to give them enough energy to compete. Watch this clip of the stirring opening ceremony which must have raised the spirits of those living through such austere times.

Britain 1948 - The Olympic Games : Gaumont British News  02-08-1948

Britain 1948 – The Olympic Games : Gaumont British News 02-08-1948









Souvenir Guide Book 1948 Olympic Games: Museum of London

Souvenir Guide Book 1948 Olympic Games: Exploring 20th Century London (via Culture Grid)














Sixty four years later, the Games are to revisit London. The intervening period has brought about great changes in the way the Games are run and how we view them. Since the Munich massacre in 1972 there has been increased concern the Games could be used to stage political acts of terrorism. Security will be a huge issue for the London 2012.

In the following clip from ‘News at Ten’ Mark Spitz talks about his own experience, as an athlete and potential hostage target, at the Munich Games during the hostage crisis.

Mark Spitz Interview: News at Ten  05-09-1972

Mark Spitz Interview: News at Ten 05-09-1972









Political changes within Europe have also had a big impact on the Games. As the dominance of the Soviet bloc came to an end, so did their former powerful prescence at the Olympics. There would now be new national teams from each of the former Communist states. The following clip also looks at how the Communist regime trained potential athletes through a system of select schools for children showing  outstanding  abilitiy in sports.

Olympic team after break-up of the Soviet Union : AP Archive  17-07-1992

Olympic team after break-up of the Soviet Union : AP Archive 17-07-1992










Rapid advances in information technology mean more people can watch the Olympics than ever before. A new satellite was ordered by China Satcom to provide live television coverage for the Bejing Games in 2008.

Satellite launched for Olympic TV broadcasts: Getty (still images)  9-06-2008

Satellite launched for Olympic TV broadcasts: Getty (still images) 9-06-2008


Growing television audiences provide new markets for branded products. The Olympic brand for London 2012 is being protected by tough legislation to restrict its use to official sponsors who have paid enormous sums for exclusive rights.

The following clip, which looks at how Olympic sponsors tapped into the growing consumer economy of China, explains ‘…’s not just the athletes who are taking home the gold’

Global brands make grab for Olympic gold : Getty (moving images)  19-03-2008

Global brands make grab for Olympic gold : Getty (moving images) 19-03-2008











There are also controversial new rules governing the use of social media during London 2012. This includes banning athletes from posting video clips from the Olympic village or tweeting ‘in the role of a journalist’.

Ticket holders may not broadcast video or sound recordings or post pictures to Facebook from any events they attend. Should the use of social media be policed  during the Games and whose interests are being protected? London 2012 may prove interesting for more than displays of athletic prowess alone.

Don’t forget to let us know what you think about any of these issues.

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